Still from Standoff Films: Campsfield House: An Immigration Removal Centre'
When prisons inspectors paid a surprise visit to Campsfield House immigration lock-up last August they found asylum seekers living in dirty, overcrowded conditions and torture survivors locked up in violation of Home Office rules. And they discovered that a child had been wrongfully imprisoned for 62 days.
Still, their report on Campsfield, which is run by the outsourcer Mitie, concludes that “overall this was a very positive inspection”, giving some indication of the standards expected of the Home Office’s commercial contractors.
In their report, published this week, the inspectors noted that three children were held at Campsfield between 2012 and 2013 in contravention of government policy. One boy was assessed by social services as being an adult and held for 62 days. He was released only after he obtained legal representation and his solicitor threatened the social services department with a judicial review. Social workers then made a second assessment and concluded that the boy was 16 years old.
The inspectors said that he “was held by mistake and should never have been detained”.
They said Mitie’s policy on safeguarding children was “up to date and comprehensive”, but there was no named member of staff who took the lead on safeguarding children.
Mitie told the inspectors that some staff had “taken an e-learning package” in child safeguarding, but the company was “unable to provide exact figures”.
The inspectors noted: “A member of staff was to attend training with Oxfordshire’s local safeguarding children board after our inspection.”
Overcrowding was a problem. “Too many detainees lived in cramped conditions, with four sharing accommodation designed for two,” the inspectors wrote.
What’s more: “The dining area was not big enough for the number of detainees using it and hygiene in the kitchen required improvement … The laundry was not big enough for the population. During our inspection two washing machines did not work and detainees said this was a regular occurrence.”
Ironically, given that Mitie is best known as a cleaning company, the report recommended:
“Toilets and showers in all residential units should be deep cleaned … some toilets and showers were very dirty and needed maintenance ... bed linen was in poor condition and we saw soiled pillows and mattresses.”
Perhaps these problems arose in part from the fact that Mitie is paying the detainees just £1 per hour to do these jobs. The inspectors found 24 detainees worked in the dirty kitchen, and in total “Seventy-four job roles, totalling 1265 hours of paid work per week, were offered ... Opportunities included cleaning, kitchen and laundry work”.
The inspectors found that asylum-seekers who had suffered torture were being locked up at Campsfield, in defiance of Home Office rules.
Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules (a statutory instrument) requires doctors working in detention centres to inform the detaining authority of persons who may have been victims of torture. On receipt of such evidence (in what’s known as a Rule 35 report), the responsible official is required to consider this information and release the person.
But at Campsfield the screening process “failed adequately to safeguard the most vulnerable detainees, including those who had been tortured.” The inspectors found that doctors’ reports were incomplete, and “did not provide adequate clinical judgements to inform caseworkers’ decisions”.
“In two separate cases, a doctor stated that a detainee might have been the victim of torture but caseworkers maintained they should remain in detention stating that this would not impact on the detainee’s health; the impact on their health was irrelevant as Home Office policy is not to detain torture survivors. In another case, a caseworker maintained that a person should remain in detention because he ‘did not mention being tortured during your screening interview ….”
Healthcare at Campsfield is provided by The Practice, a private medical company that last year agreed a “significant financial settlement” with the mother of Brian Dalrymple, an American tourist with mental health problems who had claimed asylum after landing in Britain. An inquest jury found that “medical neglect” had contributed to his death.
The inspectors found evidence of short-staffing at Campsfield: “Only one member of staff was available at night which was not compliant with current healthcare guidelines”, said the inspectors. And some staff cut corners.
“Nurses had labelled items supplied from stock inadequately, which could have posed a risk to patients,” the inspectors said. “A nurse was observed giving a detainee a dose of ibuprofen without referring to his notes for contraindications, which was potentially unsafe.”
None of the Mitie custody staff had been trained to use the defibrillator, a life-saving piece of equipment if detainees have heart attacks, which happens from time to time on the ‘detention estate’.
The inspectors reported that legal support for detainees in Campsfield was insufficient: “Too many detainees who required an immigration lawyer did not have one.” The half-hour legal aid sessions were “oversubscribed”, and there was not enough advice about bail.
Perhaps inevitably then, inspectors found: “Some detainees were detained for unreasonable periods of time. Home Office caseworkers sometimes failed to act with reasonable diligence and expedition.”
It took the Home Office more than seven months before they even interviewed one detainee about his asylum claim. One undocumented Iranian man had been held for almost ten months, although the Home Office had no clear plans to obtain the paperwork needed to deport him to Tehran. The inspectors concluded: “There was little prospect of this case being resolved within a reasonable period and ongoing detention therefore appeared illegitimate.”
For all that, Nick Hardwick, the chief inspector, concluded:
“Overall, this was a very positive inspection. Staff and managers at Campsfield House should be congratulated in dealing professionally and sensitively with detainees who were going through what, for many, was a difficult and unhappy time.”
Among problems the report neglects to mention are the fire at Campsfield in October 2013 that spread thanks to an absence of sprinklers causing 180 people to be evacuated. The mass hunger-strikes by detainees, most recently in May 2014, just months before the inspection, are also absent. The inspectors did not attribute blame to Mitie, focusing instead on reforms needed at the national level by the Home Office.
This is an edited draft of a piece first published at Corporate Watch.
The full HMIP report is available to download here (pdf)